Relationship Building

Soundtracking Your Art Room (Ep. 206)

It is an age-old question in the art room . . . do you let kids listen to music while they work, or do you make them put their earbuds away? Today, Tim talks with Elizabeth Peterson from The Inspired Classroom about soundtracking your art room and ways to bring more music to your students. Listen as they discuss types of music, art projects related to music, and the best ways to introduce new music to your students. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links



Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University and I’m your host Tim Bogatz.

So an age-old question for the art room. Do you let kids listen to music while they work or do you make them put the earbuds away? I used to play music for my kids, make them listen to what I like to listen to because I think I have the best taste in music, just like everyone does. And I wanted to introduce new music to my students. I wanted to share with them something that I love. And there were some great moments with that. That was awesome for some kids. But in doing so, I also found out that some students can get really distracted by certain types of music and if you’re playing the wrong thing, the music can actually hold them back a little bit. So I went with the strategy of students can have ear buds, but not when I’m talking. And that always seems to work out okay for me. I address minor issues as they arise and I’m willing to take away privileges if those issues happen to persist. That works for me.

But I know everyone’s situation is different and I know that doesn’t work for everybody. So today, I want to bring on a guest who has another strategy that I think is pretty good. I think it’s worth exploring. And maybe could work even better.

So Elizabeth Peterson is back on the show and we’re going to talk about soundtracking your art room. Now you probably remember Elizabeth. She’s been on the show before. She has presented at the Art Ed Now conference and she’s the founder of The Inspired Classroom website, which does all kinds of great PD and learning related to what she calls SEAL. Social and emotional artistic learning. So today, she and I are going to discuss soundtracking, how music plays a part in SEAL and she’s going to give you some new strategies on how you can use music in your classroom. I think you’re going to enjoy this.

All right. And coming back to the show. Joining me again is Elizabeth Peterson. Elizabeth, how are you today?

Elizabeth: I’m doing very well. Thanks Tim.

Tim: Good, good, glad to hear it. Now we have an exciting conversation to get to that is all about the idea of soundtracking. So I guess to start us off, can you just kind of explain what it is. And more importantly, what good soundtracking can do in the art room?

Elizabeth: Awesome. Yeah, so I’m excited to really share this stuff with your awesome art teaching community. And I think they’re really going to love this topic. So soundtracking is a way of using music in the background of your classroom to improve the atmosphere. And it’s kind of like deejaying your classroom. Now, I actually worked as a DJ a handful of times and it was just super fun and I’ve definitely made my share of mixed tapes and playlists and my day, as I’m sure many others here listening have.

Tim: As we all have.

Elizabeth: Yes, yes. And so we all kind of dabble in this fun play around with music because with all these things, you’re able to kind of help people feel a certain way or tell a story with the music songs you choose or elicit certain emotions. And if you think about what a DJ does, like at a dance, he or she is essentially controlling the atmosphere and the energy of the room with music.

And if you want to get people up and dancing, you’re going to play some upbeat music. And you may have noticed by attending school dances yourself, that you’re going to always end up with a slow song just to kind of bring the energy down in the room before it’s time to go. And I don’t know about you, but for me growing up, it always seemed to be a Stairway to Heaven. That was the go-to. But you can bring that same method of utilizing that power of music into your classroom, your art room, your studio. And now of course, you don’t have to be a wannabe DJ like me or even have a ton of really good musical knowledge to make this happen. So we can make it really simple and super effective. And that’s what I hope to do with you today.

Tim: Okay, cool. So I want to talk about the effectiveness part of that that you’ve just mentioned and kind of tie it into what we’ve discussed before. Because last time you were on, you know, we talked a lot about social and emotional artistic learning or SEAL as you call it. Now with the idea of soundtracking, do you think that soundtracking can play a part in building students’ social and emotional skills?

Elizabeth: Definitely, yeah. So soundtracking is actually a SEAL strategy that I teach in SEAL teacher training. And it’s a teacher favorite because it’s just so effective. So the biggest benefit is that it helps with students’ self-management because you’re teaching them about how the effects of music, what they play on the body and the mind. And you begin to use the power of music and sound to actually help students to manage their emotions and their actions inside your classroom.

So this makes such a big difference in the classroom atmosphere and helps with classroom management too. So it’s a classroom management tool. In fact, over the last few years is I’ve implemented soundtracking into my classroom, I’ve noticed a huge difference in my students’ focus and their calm on days that we soundtrack. And I noticed the difference when we don’t. And you know the kids notice as well. I remember, last year I had a class where if I forgot to start the music before we got to work, they would totally call me out on it. So they began to really like it and they knew how much it actually did help them.

So that brings us to self-awareness too. So being aware of how music affects you is really important, especially when you know, we’re bombarded with sound all the time. And so when students can really start to recognize how certain music will actually help them, then they can apply this learning to their world outside of school too, which is pretty cool. And I can’t help but mention how listening to music really helps to build community.

So soundtracking and your approach to it just become something nice and unique and special that you do with your students, and it really can show how much you care for them, which of course is going to help strengthen those in-class relationships. So in terms of SEAL, it’s like really a big huge win for all.

Tim: Wow, that’s awesome. No, in a lot of different areas. That’s really cool. Now something you said there kind of got me thinking. you’re talking about kids seem to work better when the soundtracking is going on. I think we have all heard about types of music that are supposed to help with art making, whether that be classical or jazz or something else. But what I was thinking, what I’ve noticed is that kids can really get into the flow of creating with music that they enjoy or music with which they are familiar. So I guess the question for me is what types of music do you like to play? What kinds of music are best for art making and why do you think they are good for art making?

Elizabeth: Yeah, there’s so many options, right? There’s jazz and classical and hip hop, reggae rock. It’s just limitless. So the first thing you want to think about is what is the purpose of the music? And with soundtracking, you can use it for many applications. For example, welcoming students into your art room, doing a fun activity that’s a little bit more laid back or deep, focused work in art making.

And just one side note with using classical music. So I’m a music nerd. I’m a musician. I got to put my little plug in here because classical music is not always the best fit here because it and many other types of music that are meant to be actively listened to, so they may be exciting parts in a piece of music that will actually disrupt your concentration or there might be a surprise in the piece that will jolt kids just right out of their focus. There are certainly pieces that you can use for creating a calm atmosphere that are classical music and such. But it’s just something to think about. So in other words, just putting on a classical music station in the background may not have quite the effect you’re looking for if all of a sudden, you know, these big huge drums start playing and kids are like, “What the heck is going to on?” Yeah.

So let’s focus in on the times when you would want to create that atmosphere of calm and focus so students can really work intently on their art. So I always keep these two things in mind. So one is that you want to keep it instrumental. And by that I mean no lyrics. Because lyrics can be very distracting to the brain, especially if the kids are familiar with the song. And this is also considering we’re not talking about individualized song choices for each student. We’re talking about for the general classroom. So you know, just kind of keeping that in mind.

And the second thing is you’ll want music that has a nice steady groove or flow, right? Because you want to get into the flow of your work. Dare I say, in some cases you might actually choose kind of monotonous music, like the droning type of music you might hear for meditation, alpha wave music. You can just Google that or search that on YouTube. And that type of music is really great because it has no rhythm. So again, it just doesn’t distract the brain while you’re working. And I actually, I put together a resource for our listeners that has a bunch of song suggestions and links to music that work really well for this type of soundtracking. And the link is really easy to remember., and they’ll be able to find that.

Tim: Perfect.

Elizabeth: Yeah, so I wanted to make sure you could get some suggestions because that’s really the biggest question I get. “Well what do I use? What do I use?” So I want to give a real good listing for everybody to be able to use.

Tim: Yeah, that’ll be great. A good place to start. We’ll make sure we link that in the show notes so everybody can can check that out. And I guess, you know, since we’re talking about getting started with things, can we talk about logistics for just a second?

Elizabeth: Definitely.

Tim: If we’re seeing all these benefits to soundtracking your art room and you have the ideas for what types of music are going to work best, what the best way to implement this strategy? Like for example, when should we have kids listening to music in the classroom?

Elizabeth: All right, so I love that you asked this because there is a right way to introduce this and a wrong way. And the wrong way is to just start and see if it works because it might not. So then there’s the right way, which goes with along with good teaching, which would mean sticking to these foundational principles that I have for SEAL, which is explicit teaching of what you’re doing, the social-emotional part that goes with the arts.

So there are six steps to soundtracking your classroom. And I’ll also outline these in the resource as well-

Tim: Perfect.

Elizabeth: But here they are. Yeah. So number one is pick a simple assignment to give your class. Now this could be just like a quick draw, even a free draw or just some easy work with some simple materials that you know your students will be successful with. And before you begin, you want to tell them what you’re going to do, which is play music and why you’re going to do it.

Step two, let your students preview the music for just a moment, a minute or less, so that they can have a chance to give you a little bit of feedback. So you might ask them some questions like, “How does this music make you feel? What makes this music a good choice to use while we’re working?” And those kinds of questions.

Step three is an if this is appropriate. So if it’s appropriate for your class, give them a chance to close their eyes and visualize themselves doing the work while the music is playing. Now this can really work well if you think you have a class that will be receptive to this. It could backfire if you have a class that’s going to be like, “I’m not closing my eyes, I’m not visualizing anything.” Right? So this is where you know your students best and you can decide if this visualization is going to work and help you. So like younger kids, they love this. Older kids, unless you have some kind of reputation of doing these kinds of things with them, it’s might not work. All right.

And then step four is play the music and then allow students to get started on their work. So you want to ensure their success. So have them work for only a short time, like five minutes, 10 minutes tops.

Then step five… Two more steps. Step five is once you’re done, it’s time to reflect and get students’ feedback on the experience. Now I realize that some teachers may be thinking that this is going to take up a lot of time and I totally get that. So yes, if you do these steps, it will take a little bit of your class time, which I know is so precious, especially if you’re only seeing them once a week. But if it’s something that you really want to try, then it’s so worth it. And if you really wanted to have some fun with this, you could actually make this class time, this class period where you’re introducing it, some time to experiment with your class and see what kinds of artwork come about with various genres of music. So you could actually make this into an entire lesson if you really wanted to. It could be kind of fun.

All right, in the last step six is to practice this new strategy and just make it part of your art room. And some classes are going to love it and others may not at first. You can play around with what music might work better for which class. And then every so often, just with any other classroom management strategy, you may need to kind of circle back to why you’re implementing this.

And one last tip I would probably give specifically to art teachers is if you do only see your students once a week, when you greet your students as they enter your room, give them a quick reminder that they’re going to be entering the room to music or before you get started on your work or creation time. Just remind them that you’re going to be playing music to help them focus on their artwork. So just to keep that at the forefront of their mind and just set them up for success while the music is playing.

Tim: Yeah, that’s some really good advice. And I actually, I wrote down all six of your steps. I really like those. So I think that’ll be really handy. And then I guess one last question for you. I think we’d probably be remiss if we didn’t touch on the biggest debate of all, especially for secondary teachers. Do you allow students to use earbuds or not?

Elizabeth: Yes. I love this topic because, because music is so important to so many kids, especially preteens and teens. My kids who are almost 13 and 14, one of them literally walks around all day with earbuds in her ears. And so they would just love the opportunity to listen to their own music while creating their artwork. So first you need to think about the issue of monitoring their music that they’re going to play. And that is really something you would need to kind of check up on with your principal to make sure you can even have them do this. And if they do, what devices are they going to use and all that kind of thing.

Now, there are so many studies out there on the effect of music and music and sound and the effect that they can have on people from enhancing their mood positively and negatively. So if a student is depressed, you know, listening to negative or sad music will only enhance that mood. There are also studies about how some people are using music and sound to control their chronic pain and accelerate the body’s healing process, which I just think is fascinating.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really interesting.

Elizabeth: It is, isn’t it? It’s just music and music waves. They’re just so powerful. So I love being able to kind of just bring that into the classroom with this. But I read about this informal study that one art teacher did with his students, where he allowed his students to work for a number of classes while wearing their earbuds and listening to their music that they chose. And the majority of their artwork was dark and heavy. And he reported that they were mostly listening to rock and heavy metal and it really affected their artwork.

And then weeks later, he changed the music and he started playing Baroque music while they worked. So you know, like Bach and Handel and the subject matter of their artwork started to change over time. So they went from skulls and gore to scenes with animals and trees. And they even started showing some more sophisticated art techniques in their work, which I thought was really just another layer of awesome. Showing the change in their demeanor and artwork as well.

So it could be actually a little fun to experiment and do this kind of thing in your own art room and see what kind of music will affect your students and their work. And it’s very probable that many of our listeners have already dabbled in this type of experimentation, whether they realize it or not. But I do believe that there’s definitely a correlation between the music we listen to and the work we produce.

So thinking about what you want your students to be listening to, whether you choose it or they do, it’s just really important to consider. So that’s why I tend to go with the type of music that can really just melt into the background and create that atmosphere and serve more or less as just that blanket of calm in the classroom.

And here’s my final thought. So I believe that our job as a teacher is to expand students’ horizons. So don’t be afraid to set boundaries with what you want your students to listen to as they create and also help students to explore new music, some of which may really benefit them as artists. So there’s my $.02 cents on that.

Tim: Well, I-

Elizabeth: A lot of cents, if you will.

Tim: No, I think that gives everybody a lot to think about. Not only the effects and what we can see with the kids, but also think about how people are using it in their own classroom and just kind of the results of playing those different types of music. And like you said, I think it’s worth experimenting. So thank you for giving us all of those ideas, giving us something to think about, and hopefully giving people some action items on how they can do this in their classroom. So thank you Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: Excellent. Great. And thanks Tim for having me on again. I love chatting with you guys about all these great things.

Tim: Always good to talk to you, so we’ll have to have you on again soon.

Elizabeth: All right. Sounds good.

Tim: All right. Like I said, I hope you enjoyed that conversation. Before we go, I want to go over that checklist of implementation strategies just so you have it one more time before we leave.

1. Start with a simple assignment. Tell your kids as a plan and why.

2. Let them kind of preview the music, get a response from them and kind of get an idea of where you’re going with that.

3. Let kids close their eyes and visualize what they’re seeing when they’re listening to that music.

4. Play the music. Allow kids to get started, but keep it short that first time so you can ensure some success, something that you can build on.

5. Reflect, get some feedback from them on how things are going and what they’re thinking.

6. Like you do with any new strategy, make sure you practice. Make it a part of what you do. And if you can put all that together, then I think it’ll be worth your time. And I think soundtracking can do some great things in your art room. So big thank you to Elizabeth. So I’m going to encourage everyone to use her ideas, find some new music. Find some things that will work for you. Check out the download on her website and hopefully you can start to implement some soundtracking in your own art room.

Art Ed Radio is brought to you by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you, as always for listening, and we will see you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.